An elegant river barge will serve as the laboratory for the aging experiments. (photos courtesy of the brand)

With the naval traditions of rum-drinking, champagne-christening, and, of course, a tasty sun-downer from the deck, the nautical connection to spirits has been more spiritual than industrial. But consider this: French Cognac house Maison Ferrand, which also produces the fine line of Plantation rums and Citadelle gin, is planning a new “floating cellar” operation to explore the age-old, water-kissed distilling process of dynamic aging.

In the old days, when liquor, and especially rum, was transported in small casks aboard wooden ships over long distances, the constant rolling motion on the water actually performed a separate and intense aging step over lengthy transit. With the advent of modern distilling techniques and materials and air freight transportation, this dynamic aging process was pretty much lost to time.

Fast-forward to today: Cellar master Alexandre Gabriel noticed some unique flavors to the global rums, from the Caribbean and even as far-flung as the South Pacific, that the operation imported by sea in casks for its Plantation Rum label. Those rums get an additional rest in cognac barrels in France before release, but the taste of the incoming imports sparked his curiosity. 

Ferrand spirits expert Margaux Lespinasse will oversee the innovative maritime program.

Maison Ferrand tapped their archives to explore this technique, and entries dating back to 1908 reported a tenfold increase of a spirit’s interaction with the wood casks as well as the delivery of some unique long-lost flavor profiles.

As a result, the distiller is restoring a 1948-vintage Freycinet Gauge river barge to not only resurrect and experiment with this fascinating process, but also serve as a unique gathering place for admirers of fine, inventive distilling. And, visitors will be able to reserve a personal cask of the waterborne results if they so desire.

Rechristened Barge 166, the vessel will hold 500 30-liter barrels of Ferrand cognac and Plantation rum (as well as some extremely rare experimental casks invited from cult-artisan distillers like Sweden’s Macmyra Whiskey) and plans are to have it drop anchor and gently ride the waters of the Seine at Issy-les-Moulineaux, just beyond Paris’ 15th arrondissement, starting this spring.

Under the supervision and tutelage of Margaux Lespinasse, Private Casks Manager and spirits expert for Maison Ferrand, members of the Barge 166 Private Cask project can select their personal cognac or rum cask, visit the barge to follow the progress of their unique spirit, and, in fact, decide when to bottle it. No word on the details yet, but you can follow the project’s journey here.

Here’s to some intriguing sipping and sailing on the Seine this spring!